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Commuter Rails Systems To Receive Millions to Boost Safety

At least 17 of the top commuter and intercity railroads will receive millions of dollars in funding from the US government to increase rail safety with automatic braking systems that are intended to automatically slow down trains that are in potentially dangerous situations.

The Department of Transportation stated last month that it would issue $197 million in funding after commuter railroads have opposed looming deadlines to implement the safety systems, known as positive train control or PTC.

Congress ordered PTC to be implemented by 2015, but commuter rail systems complained that they lacked the funds to meet the date. The new deadline is now the end of 2018. The new federal funds should help the commuter rail lines to meet the new deadline for PTC, which could reduce the chances of train crashes and derailments. 

Some of the busiest commuter rail lines in the country welcome the funding infusion.

In Florida, the Southern Florida Regional Transportation Authority will get $32 million to install PTC. This is the second-highest tranche of funding for a single commuter rail group. The Tri-Rail commuter line is 72 miles long and runs through the crowded Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties. Also, the Florida Department of Transportation will receive nearly $2 million funding for the Central Florida Rail Corridor.

According to Federal Railroad Administration Executive Director Patrick Warren, the federal funds for PTC installation will help some of the busiest commuter railroads in the country to improve rail safety for millions of train passengers every day.

In recent years, there have been several possibly preventable train crashes in which PTC could have been a lifesaver. In Hoboken, New Jersey in 2016, a commuter train smashed into a major commuter train station, killing a woman and injuring 100 other people. The train was shown to have been moving at double the intended speed. A PTC system could have automatically slowed the train so that it could have entered the terminal normally.

Our View

Research indicates that the implementation of positive train control can lead to a reduction in train-to-train crashes, derailments due to excessive speed, train movements through malfunctioning train switches, and unauthorized entry of trains into work zones.

Our railroad accident personal injury attorneys in Virginia and North Carolina would like to see PTC installed as soon as possible on commuter train lines. There is no doubt that positive train control systems will lead to a reduction in train crashes and derailments that lead to serious injury and death, personal injury lawsuits, and wrongful death lawsuits. 

Virginia Rail Express Adding Safety Technology to Rail Lines

Work is continuing in Virginia to install Positive Train Control (PTC) onto railroad tracks that experts say could have prevented many recent, fatal train accidents, such as in Hoboken, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Virginia Rail Express (VRE), a popular commuter rail line in the state and in the metro Washington DC area, stated in early March 2017 that it is on track to have all trains and cab cars outfitted with PTC in the next few months. 

VRE trains are on CSX and Norfolk Southern tracks in Virginia, and Chief Executive Officer of the VRE, Doug Allen, stated last week that the commuter rail line is working with both rail companies to get PTC done.

Allen noted in a press conference that VRE is installing radios and computers, which communicate constantly with the systems being installed on all tracks. Once the system is fully operational, it will be able to stop or slow a train automatically to avoid a train crash or train derailment.

Several recent train crashes on the East Coast have highlighted the need for PTC.

In May 2015, an Amtrak train was going too fast on a curve near Philadelphia. Eight people were killed. In September 2016, a New Jersey Transit train crashed in the Hoboken commuter station, killing one. Many experts believe the train accidents could have been prevented with PTC.

VRE wants to start testing the new PTC systems by September 2017, and hopes to have the system up and running by next year.

Rail operators and rail companies have until Dec. 31, 2018 to have PTC fully operational. 

Our View

Our personal injury and wrongful death attorneys in Virginia are pleased that positive train control is soon to be fully operational on all VRE trains in the Commonwealth. PTC can likely prevent many serious train accidents and derailments that kill and seriously injure many people nearly every year.

Our personal injury rail road accident law firm has handled lawsuits where a train derailed and led to catastrophic personal injuries. Our law firm and co-counsel represented a gas station worker who suffered a traumatic train injury when a Norfolk Southern train derailed and crashed into his workplace.

The man suffered many serious, orthopedic  injuries and brain damage. The train crash verdict was $60 million with interest, and we were proud to get that case resolved so the victim could get the medical care he needed.

If PTC can prevent those types of disastrous train crashes, the system will be entirely worth the cost.

 

BNSF Railroad Pleads for US Government to Pay for Life Saving Train Technology

A leading freight railroad has been urging Congress to pay for passenger railroad companies to install positive train control or PTC on all passenger trains. 

BNSF Railway has been one of the leading companies promoting the use of PTC, a technology that will slow a train down automatically that is going over the speed limit.

PTC will eventually be required by law for all freight trains. But BNSF says that the efforts for more train safety will be futile if passenger and commuter trains do not have the same technology; all of the various types of trains share the same tracks.

BNSF is actively urging Congress to fund PTC for commuter rail services. The head of BNSF told Congress this month that he fears that a crash will happen where a freight train has PTC but the passenger train does not.

Congress first gave commuter and freight trains until Dec. 31, 2015 to install PTC. This advanced GPS technology can prevent derailments, collisions, crashes and improper train switching.

But railroads struggled to meet the deadlines and lawmakers gave them until the end of 2018 to comply. However, recent train crashes in New Jersey and elsewhere have increased pressure on stakeholders to get PTC done as soon as possible.

Freight trains are getting PTC installed faster than commuter trains. BNSF recently tested 35,000 PTC segments in the last 60 days, and 85% of them had no problems.

Our View

Our railroad accident attorneys have long been advocates of PTC. The idea of positive train control has been around since 2008 when a Metrolink crash in California killed the train operator and two dozen others. In that terrible train crash, the operators was texting a friend on a cell phone, which caused him to run a red light, and tragedy resulted.

President Bush signed a law that would require all railroads to implement PTC systems by the end of 2015. Now the deadline is the end of 2018. We hope it is installed before then because the Federal Railroad Administration states that the system could prevent up to 52 accidents each year.

The new system is expensive and will present both time and financial challenges for railroad companies. But the fact is that the technology will save lives. Also, major freight companies are largely on schedule with PTC. Commuter and passenger trains are lagging, but perhaps with some federal help, they will be able to meet the 2018 deadline as well.

If so, many tragic train crashes, personal injury lawsuits and wrongful death lawsuits could be avoided.

New Jersey Transit Approves Funds for Postive Train Control

In the wake of a deadly commuter train crash in a busy Hoboken, New Jersey train station, New Jersey Transit has approved a budget that includes funding for large parts of positive train control (PTC) system, which would include an automatic braking system that could automatically stop a train in an emergency situation.

hoboken

New Jersey Transit approved an agreement for leasing radio frequency spectrum, which is an essential part of a PTC system, to cover northern and eastern areas of the railroad in the state. In April, the transit authority worked out a deal to cover the southern, central and western areas.

NJ Transit has until the end of 2018 to fully implement PTC, per the federal deadline for the installation of PTC on all commuter train systems.

When the commuter train in Hoboken crashed, killing one and leaving 100 injured, the NTSB quickly concluded that an automatic braking system may have prevented the disaster. In that crash in late September 2016, the commuter train was rolling into the Hoboken station at a normal 5 MPH, but suddenly increased speed and crashed into the terminal, spraying debris through the waiting crowds of commuters.

It is not yet known why the train sped up; the engineer has no memory of the crash.

When a train derailed in Philidelphia in May 2015, the NTSB also determined quickly that the derailment would have been prevented by PTC.

Our View

Our railroad accident and railroad derailment lawyers are glad that New Jersey Transit is working on installing PTC on its trains and rail lines. PTC could prevent 52 accidents per year, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. The NTSB also claims that if PTC had been in place, it could have prevented 15 train crashes since 2005 that killed 50 people.

Our personal injury attorneys implore the US and state governments to implement Positive Train Control more quickly. We should be keeping up with countries in Europe and Asia that already have versions of PTC in place.

When train derailments occur, the injuries and deaths are devastating to families. And those derailments can lead to huge personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits that can cost the railroad tens of millions of dollars in a jury verdict. PTC is a smart investment.

 

NJ Train Engineer Has No Memory of the Crash That Killed 1

The engineer who was running the train in Hoboken NJ that smashed into a busy commuter rail terminal, which killed a woman and injured more than 100, told federal investigators this week that he was only going 10 MPH as he approached the station, but has no memory of the crash. 

The statement from the train engineer, Thomas Gallagher, came as federal investigators discovered that a data recorder on the train that was supposed to record speed and braking data did not work. Investigators say there is a second data recorder but it is under a collapsed part of the station’s roof and they cannot get to it.

trestle

Federal rules require that commuter trains have a functioning recorder in the lead car, and the boxes also are supposed to be inspected each year.

Gallagher stated that he was fully rested and the train was functioning normally last Thursday morning before it crashed. The crash took the life of Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, 34, who was standing on the train platform.

The investigation will continue in the coming weeks, and investigators hope they can get to the second data recorder soon.

Months before this deadly New Jersey train crash, federal rail authorities have found dozens of safety violations in safety audits that focused on NJ Transit’s safety and operations.

Our View

From what the engineer is telling investigators, it is possible that he had some type of medical emergency during the crash. Hopefully this will become clearer in the coming weeks.

If he did have a medical emergency in this tragic train crash with death and personal injury, this points to the need more than ever of Positive Train Control (PTC) on all passenger trains as soon as possible. This is a GPS-based safety system that can prevent over speed derailments and train to train collisions.

PTC could prevent many terrible train crashes and derailments, such as this case with serious personal injury in Virginia that we won a verdict for $60 million.

But there’s also another possible simple explanation of the engineer falling asleep and having no recollection of the circumstances. Many safety experts have called for no less than two operators or engineers of not only commuter railroad trains, but on freight trains and passenger trains.

 

 

Railroads Sluggish to Adopt Safety Technology as Deadline Passes

Many commuter and freight railroads continue to be slow to adopt safety technology that could prevent deadly crashes and derailments. This is in spite of the fact that that Congress has mandated that railroads install positive train control or PTC. 

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PTC uses digital radio signals, GPS and signals on tracks to monitor the position of trains. It has the ability to automatically stop or slow a train to prevent it from disobeying a signal. This has the potential to prevent derailments and serious accidents, including trains entering tracks that are closed for maintenance.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, some railroads have made some progress, but many others have yet to equip a single train or track with the technology.

Congress passed the law in 2008 which gave railroads seven years to install PTC. Last year that deadline was extended for three more years. But according to Sarah Feinberg, head of the FRA,, railroads should not delay in installing the technology. Every day that goes by without PTC, she said, we are risking another serious train accident.

As of summer 2016, PTC is installed on 9% of freight route lines and 22% of passenger rail lines. Freight railroads  have also outfitted 34% of their locomotives with PTC.

However, progress varies greatly by railroad. BNSF has equipped 3/4 of its locomotives, while Union Pacific has barely equipped any of its locomotives at this point.

Our View

Our railroad accident attorneys in Virginia hope that more railroads will get PTC implemented as soon as they can. It seems wrong that the technology exists right now to greatly reduce the chances of train collisions and derailments – thereby saving many lives – yet many railroads are dragging their feet to install PTC. 

They may think they are saving money by not installing PTC, but as this $60 million verdict shows, a train derailment can be extremely costly for a railroad, both in dollar terms and in terms of its professional reputation.

FRA Issues Status Updates for Positive Train Control Progress

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) last week issued a status update that is calling for railroads to come out with Positive Train Control (PTC) technologies, which uses GNSS technology, as some as they are able to do so. This update also emphasizes the Obama administration’s call to send more funding to help commuter railroads to implement Positive Train Control. 

trestle

PTC mostly uses GPS to prevent train crashes, derailments and unauthorized movement of trains into work areas, but GNSS  (Global Navigation Satellite System) is a more advanced technology.

Both Congress and railroads have been sluggish to accept and implement PTC due to cost concerns. The NTSB has recommended PTC as one of the most important safety improvements of the year. However, the NTSB has been fighting a slow battle against the industry and Congress to get the systems implemented quickly.

The NTSB has responded to the slow adoption of PTC by noting that several major railroad accidents could have been likely avoided if PTC had been implemented. One of them was the May 12, 2015 Amtrak crash in Philadelphia that killed eight.

Our View

It is a shame that industry and Congress are slow to adopt PTC; bringing this technology online quickly could save many lives. Our railroad industry crash lawyers have represented clients whose families were lost in train mishaps. Also, we have reported on many train accidents where people died, such as this rear end crash between two trains in IA in 2011. That crash could have been avoided with better safety systems. 

 

Broken Rail Led to WV Oil Train Derailment, Officials State

By Randy Appleton, Virginia Railroad Accident Attorney

A West Virginia crude oil train derailment in February 2015 that caused a fire and forced several hundred people to leave their homes was due to a split rail, according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) last week.

Two CSX rail inspections in December 2014 and January 2015 did not detect the defect in the rail before the derailment on Feb. 16. The FRA stated that broken rails are one of the top causes of railroad accidents. Railroads that move crude oil through communities  have to be as safe as possible, FRA stated that CSX, as well as other railroad companies, must be more careful in their inspection processes.

rail va

FRA stated that it will mandate that CSX provides inspectors with more access to earlier inspection reports to prevent accidents in the future. FRA also stated that it will look at the need for better railhead wear standards to prevent such derailments.

FRA gave $25,000 fines to CSX and Sperry Rail Service, which is the company that did the inspections. A Sperry Rail Service inspector was reported to have seen the rail fault but declined to get out of his car to look at it.

The derailment outside of Mount Carbon WV caused 27 cars loaded with shale crude oil to fall off the tracks. The oil threatened to leak into local water supplies, and smoke from the large fire forced hundreds to evacuate their homes.

Our railroad accident law firm in Virginia is all too well accustomed to irresponsible train and railroad companies that neglect to ensure that their equipment is in proper working order. This often leads to derailments that cause serious injury. We once had a client whose train derailed, and his body hit metallic parts in the cab. After he left work, he went to the ER because he was having headaches as well as shoulder pain. He started to have headaches often and also tingling in his arms.

It turned out that the accident caused a spinal cord syrinx, which caused spinal fluid to collect beside the spinal cord. Our job was to convince a jury that the derailment led to the injury. It eventually was settled out of court for $190,000.

Most Railroads Won’t Meet Deadline For New Safety Technology

By Richard Shapiro, Railroad Accident Attorney

Only a few railroads will come close to meeting a new federal deadline to install new safety technology that may prevent some crashes. Some of those crashes include derailments due to excessive speed, such as the deadly Amtrak wreck in Philadelphia last May. 

Just three railroads have turned in their safety plans to the federal government. This is necessary before they can place the new technology – positive train control (PTC) – into operation. The railroads are BNSF Railway, Metrolink in Lose Angeles, and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

Amtrak has not yet submitted their plan, but railroad authorities state that they think PTC will be operating in the Northeast Corridor by the end of the year.

The PTC being put into place uses GPS, wireless radio and computer technology to monitor the position of trains and will automatically slow or stop trains that may derail because they are going to fast or are about to crash into another train.

train

A rail safety law that was passed seven years ago gave railroads seven years to install PTC. The technology is expensive, and many railroads did not move quickly. However, the May 12 Amtrak crash, which killed eight and injured at least 200, has spurred the federal government to start to push rail companies to get PTC installed as soon as possible.

As Virginia railroad accident attorneys, we have seen many train derailments occur due to poor maintenance and lax safety standards on the part of railroad companies. About 40% of train derailments in the US are caused by broken rails and track problems, and many others are caused by excessive speed.

A major union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division, called this year for rail companies to do more for rail safety and to keep train tracks in proper repair. This is especially important in the case of oil trains; all it takes is one worn out section of track for a major derailment to occur, and this can be a true disaster when dozens of tankers carrying crude oil are involved.

Some companies have been fighting the installation of PTC on oil tanker cars, which we find to be truly unfortunate. The installation of PTC can not only reduce the incidence of oil trains derailing: It could prevent most derailments, such as the Amtrak crash that took so many lives. We hope that all railroad companies will get on board and get PTC installed as soon as possible, and generally do more to increase the safety of the US rail system.